On a hot and sunny afternoon, better suited to cricket, Cobham’s 1st XV squad began their 2023/24 league season against Old Colfeians, with a welcome return for club stalwart Billy Davison as Director of Rugby. With yet another RFU league reshuffle, Cobham find themselves in Regional 2 South East (level 6), with some old local favourites but also some big names like Sutton & Epsom, Sidcup and Medway.
Cobham's squad saw debuts for new boys Will Hebbes and Joel O'Keefe, from the bench. The visitors kicked off and a great chase from Porter, who then ripped the ball off Colfe's second row, resulted in new boy Hebbes bursting through and offloading to Yanni, for the opening score close to the posts, which Fin Savill converted (0-7). It was an excellent start and Cobham kept up the pressure for the next few minutes, pressing Colfeians into mistakes and a turnover penalty enabled Savill to add three points (0-10).
The hosts had struggled for possession to this point, but a Porter high tackle enabled them to kick to the corner and with a large pack of forwards, you could imagine they would have a strong driving maul. However, it was well defended by the Cobham pack but with the backs offside, a simple three points for their fly half put Colfeians on the board (3-10).
Porter again chased the kick-off well and won the ball in the air, and with a lovely passage of play amongst forwards and backs saw Cobham pick and go on the drive. The final drive by Bliss was deemed by the referee to be held up although the tight head and others did not agree! Cobham maintained the pressure on and following another pacey attack with both forwards and backs involved, lock Westgarth-Taylor went crashing over for his first try for Cobham. Despite a missed conversion, Cobham led by 12 points (3-15) after 23 minutes which arguably did not reflect the game so far.
Cobham won the restart and kept up the pressure; a driving maul close to the line was well disrupted by Colfeians followed by the ball being dropped in the backs which led to another good position being lost. At this stage, Colfeians were struggling to get into the game. That was until Cobham missed touch from a penalty allowing Colfeians Tom Chapman to return the ball with a barnstorming run, which cut straight through Cobham's defence. The resulting driving maul was deemed to have been illegally brought down by Rodman, which saw a yellow card and a penalty try being awarded. The 10-15 half-time scoreline really didn’t seem a fair reflection of the half.
The second half was to be a much more even contest with both sides looking to attack at every opportunity. One attack by Cobham, after a good run from number eight Tom Davison, was ended by a forward pass, while a couple of attacks by Colfeians were well-defended by the visitors. However, the next points were Cobham's; Savill made a break, offloaded to Yanni and after a couple of quick rucks, the ball was passed out to Penfold who had the speed to go over for a great try (10-20).
After what looked like a mid-air collision by both players, Fraser Atkinson came off worst and was replaced by Ben Harper who went to 12, Savill to 15 and Penfold to the wing. The penalty enabled Colfeians to gain field position and they kept the pressure on. Another penalty saw a yellow card shown to hooker Muirhead for not rolling away and maybe just one too many infringements in the red zone.
Both sides were still attacking but next up was Cobham going down the left wing where a potential try-scoring pass was knocked on by Colfeians and another yellow card. Cobham took the scrum and after a few phases Cobham were awarded a penalty. Skipper Saunders elected to go for the posts and when the ball hit the post and stayed out, Colfeians decided to run it back. Fortunately for the visitors, a knock-on again gave Cobham field position. Following a quick tap penalty, Cobham looked after the ball and finally went blindside with Saunders passing out wide to Harper for the score (10-25).
Ryan Ajula came off after a good shift against Colfeians massive tight head allowing O’Keeffe to make his debut, while Ollie Fox was also now on for Porter. The home side had the better of the next 10 minutes, with Cobham maybe sitting back; they attacked well and seemed to have regular overlaps on the left. This resulted in well-taken tries for winger Spaczal and lock O'Malley, meaning with a few minutes to go, it was 22-25 with the game back in the balance.
Cobham rallied themselves once again and stayed in the opposition half; it was a period of pressure that ended with Hebbes making the break to go over for a debut try (22-32). This score secured victory, although Colfeians had one last chance to get a bonus point. However, it would be their turn to miss touch from the penalty. Cobham ran the ball back, Yanni made a lovely break and after various passes, Cobham were all but over the line. Edmundson tried to find Penfold with a cross-field kick, but that ended up in touch and that would be the final play of the game. Final score, 22-32.
It was not a perfect start but it was the first game of the season with a team containing fresh faces and combinations. With that in mind, most of the visiting supporters – of which there were many – were incredibly pleased with the result, an away bonus point win. The fact that some of the players were not so happy, showed the standards they have set themselves but it's a good start to build on and take into this Saturday’s (9 September) home match against Medway.
Cobham RFC 1st XV Squad:-
1. Ryan Aujla
2. Andy Muirhead
3. Luke Bliss
4. Luke Westgarth-Taylor
5. Wesley Van Der Ploeg
6. Doug Rodman
7. Louis Porter
8. Tom Davison
9. Ryan Saunders (Capt.)
10. Fin Savill
11. James Edmundson
12. Will Hebbes*
13. Yannis Loizis
14. Fraser Atkinson
15. Rory Penfold
16. Joel O’Keefe*
17. Ollie Fox
18. Ben Harper
Tries: Loizis, Westgarth-Taylor, Penfold, Harper, Hebbes
Conversions: Savill (2)